Surprisingly Edible Plant Parts

When most of us think of vegetables, we see visions of ruby red beets and vibrant carrots roasting in the oven, or forests of tree-like broccoli stalks waiting to be steamed or stir-fried. But, what about those feathery carrot tops or deep green beet or broccoli leaves?

These incredibly delicious (and nutritious!) parts of plants are often tossed in the compost bin (or, even worse, the garbage) and quickly forgotten. But, in many professional kitchens (including ours), that is no longer the case. From blending into a pesto or relish to sautéing and adding to a pasta dish, chefs are taking stem-to-root cooking seriously. Home cooks are catching on, and you can too. Not only does using these often-tossed parts of the plant reduce food waste, but they also add nutrients and enhance the flavor profile of your dish.

Not sure where to start?  Here are a few ways our chefs are using unexpected plant parts:  

Plant part How to use
Carrot or radish tops Add to salsas, chutneys, relishes, and salads
Chard stems Sauté and serve with the greens, pickle them, or use in salsas
Broccoli and cauliflower leaves and stalks In stir-fries, pastas, salads, or grate for slaws
Beet greens and stems Add to salads, stir-fries, soups, pastas, or sauté as a side vegetable
Potato skins Leave on the potato or season and roast the skin as a snack or garnish

From our kitchens to your table —  tips for the home cook:

  1. Fresh is best:  Head to the farmers’ market or look for locally grown produce at your grocery store — vegetables and fruits sold close to when they were picked will retain more nutrients and stay fresher longer. Use most vegetables within several days after purchasing for the best flavor and texture.
  2. Small wins big. The bright, crisp tops of small carrots add flavor and texture to salsas, pesto, and salads. Store in airtight bags and use within three days of purchase.
  3. Give a little extra love (in the oven). When cooking with chard stems and broccoli stalks, this heartier part of the vegetable may need a little more time to cook so give them a head start in the pan or oven.
  4. Show off your knife skills. Those chunky stalks from broccoli and cauliflower add a satisfying crunch to your dish, but leave ‘em too thick and you’ll be chewing for days. Impress your dinner guests by slicing into thin matchsticks (we call this julienne) with your knife, shredding in a food processor, or use a vegetable peeler to create eye-catching ribbons and add them to salads and slaws. The fun shapes might even get vegetable naysayers (and kids!) to give them a try — a win for all.
  5. Leave the leaves: Don’t toss those beautiful, bright leaves that you see on broccoli, cauliflower, or sprouting from your beets. Sauté with garlic and olive oil, add to a pasta dish, or toss in a salad. Store in an airtight container for freshness and use within a few days.
  6. Keep the skin in the game. Potato skins can be more than just a vehicle for stuffing with bacon, cheese, and sour cream. Instead, when peeling potatoes, be sure to wash them well and then hold onto those skins. Rub with a small amount of olive oil, chili powder and smoked paprika and roast in the oven until crisp. Enjoy as a snack or crumbled onto finished dishes like pastas and salad instead of bacon crumbles. Feeling adventurous? Add to a savory breakfast porridge of steel cut oats, with roasted sweet potato and slivered scallions.  Top with an egg for extra protein (if you’re into that kind of thing).